Saturday, December 27, 2014

I'll Live for Him -- Ralph Erskine Hudson

Loyalty was the message this 39-year old multitalented Ohioan (in the Alliance area of northeast Ohio, shown here) wanted to communicate with a three-verse composition he conceived, not only to remind himself but also those he taught. It must have been modeled for him at some point in his early life, so that he could see it and incorporate this submission and devotion into his own spirit, to say “I’ll Live for Him” in a musical way. Did it stem from his parents or other adults around him in his youth? Were there other experiences that molded his character, and that spurred his interest in music and compelled him to serve God?     

There may have been several facets of Ralph Hudson’s life experience up until 1882 that coaxed the words of “I’ll Live for Him” from the inner being of this teacher-composer-publisher-evangelist. Though little is known of his parents, Henry and Sarah, and their family life in probably western Pennsylvania, it’s at least plausible that his faith and musical inclination developed under their influence. Ralph, as a youth entering adulthood, volunteered for the Union army during a three-year period (1861-64) of the Civil War, an epoch that must have also shaped him fundamentally. Perhaps some of his pursuits in the postwar era had germinated in the early-to-mid 1860s, when he was a nurse in hospitals, witnessing the wounds that battle could inflict on the human body and psyche. He also married in this period, so we can guess that what he later became must have had his wife Mary’s assent, or perhaps that she actively encouraged his musical and faith-based ambitions. He became a professor of music at the Mount Union College in 1870’s-Alliance, Ohio, was active in the temperance movement and evangelism through a Methodist-Episcopal church there, further exercised his music muscles via hymn-writing and a publishing business, and also collaborated with another minister for a time in the real estate business. He was one the early supporters of the Salvation Army in Alliance also. One can imagine that Ralph lived these various facets of his life consistent with his faith, if the words of his 1882 composition rang true. From all appearances, his life with Mary and his six children in 1882 was happy, as the words of the refrain he wrote indicate he expected to be—‘How happy then my life shall be’--if he lived to serve Him. Their life was probably not without some downbeat moments, including perhaps the death of an oldest son between 1870 and 1880. Ralph must have lived and seen enough—good and bad, even a horrible war—to convince himself that living for God was what he needed, a pattern that endured until the century turned over and he died shortly thereafter.   

What page on my calendar might persuade me to look backward as well as forward, perhaps as Ralph Hudson did when he penned “I’ll Live for Him”? A lot of us treat the end of December that way. It’s ‘resolution’ time – lose that weight, start and finish that project, stop bad habits, adopt healthy ones. Some of Hudson’s lifestyle habits in 1882 had been or were the following: serving his country, caring for wounded, raising a family, worship, evangelism, encouraging restraint (vice alcoholism), and writing music. He’d practiced some good habits, it seems. His hymn words tell how I can manage and focus all of my habits, my lifestyle. You got a New Year’s resolution?   

See following sites for brief biography on the composer and the song’s verses:

Also see more information on the song’s composer in 101 More Hymn Stories by Kenneth W. Osbeck, Kregel Publications, 1985.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Have Thine Own Way -- Adelaide Pollard

Mid-life crisis? Was this among the circumstances of 40-year old Adelaide Pollard as she contemplated her situation in 1902? She must have felt, as many do at one or multiple times in their lives, that she’d reached a point where she was passionate to do something, yet was frustrated by the hurdle in her way. Was her desire not something good for His kingdom, she wondered? Has he not put this aspiration inside me? And then, in quite an unexpected way, she encountered someone she’d never met before, who spoke something that got inside her. Though certain of His will before this incident, Adelaide must have concluded that she needed to say “Have Thine Own Way” more deeply and intently. She needed to be like potter’s clay (maybe like the one I made many years ago, shown here).

Adelaide Pollard was part of several ministries for God for many years before and after the turn of the 20th Century, and so was accustomed to following wherever He seemed to be leading. She’d been a teacher, including as a bible instructor, in the Chicago area in the 1880s. She also had followed and participated in the work of two evangelists prior to turning 40, the second of which was in New England. It was there that she was keenly motivated to seek missionary work in Africa, yet bitterly disappointed in her drive to raise funds for the trip. Perhaps she’d poured out her soul over this deep regret to a group at a prayer service one night, for it was there that an anonymous old woman said something that germinated deep within Adelaide. Was it the wisdom that comes from experience, perhaps some distress in her own life, which caused the elderly woman to pray the words that Pollard used later that same night as her hymn title? Not only had the old woman’s words pierced her; Adelaide also found inspiration from an ancient writer, someone who might identify with her emotional state – Jeremiah. This prophet’s imagery of a potter (Jeremiah 18:3-4) found its way into her response in the hymn. In submissive words, she speaks of putting aside her own agenda in favor of His. Interestingly, many years later, she actually did go to Africa briefly. She then spent the war years (World War I) in Scotland before returning to the U.S. in the postwar era.

So, could it be that part of her surrender to Him meant moving about on His timetable?
How would Adelaide Pollard answer? Besides moving physically several times in her 72 years, she must have more than once moved emotionally-spiritually. Pollard is credited with writing perhaps a few dozen hymns, but among them are several with titles that suggest she surrendered again and again to what He wanted her to do. “Have Thine Own Way” wasn’t just one episode of Adelaide Pollard’s story, but really rather like a window we can peer through to see what’s inside. Are there windows about me, which others may be looking through? What do they see? Maybe it should be Who they see, huh?

See more information on the song discussed above in 101 More Hymn Stories by Kenneth W. Osbeck, Kregel Publications, 1985; Then Sings My Soul – 150 of the World’s Greatest Hymn Stories, Robert J. Morgan, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2003; Amazing Grace – 366 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions, by Kenneth W. Osbeck, 1990, Kregel Publications; and The Complete Book of Hymns – Inspiring Stories About 600 Hymns and Praise Songs, by William J. and Ardythe Petersen, 2006, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. 

Also see following sites:,_Lord

Saturday, December 13, 2014

There Is Sunshine in My Soul -- Eliza Edmunds Hewitt

She had just been released from a kind of prison-like experience, and being mobile again, overflowing joy surged through her. That’s the quickest, one-sentence description of what sensation Eliza Edmunds Hewitt felt in 1887 as she scribbled the words for “There Is Sunshine in My Soul”. She could have moaned about how long she’d been trapped, about the lost time and tedium of the past several months, or how she intended to repay the one responsible for these circumstances. But at that moment, rediscovering and appreciating the blessing of her physical freedom and His care for her blotted out those other moods.   

Eliza was a 35-year old who had been disabled by an accident, recovered for a time, and then discovered that this period was a precursor for her life’s work. Hewitt had begun what she thought was her life’s calling as a teacher in Philadelphia, after attending schools there herself as a youngster. She was at the corner of 23rd and Brown Streets one day, in a classroom at the Northern Home for Friendless Children (see a sketch of it here), when her life took an unexpected turn. Teaching in a school for orphans must have had its challenges – was it more or less difficult than other schools is a debatable question – but Eliza could not have welcomed the assault from a student who cracked her across the back with a piece of slate one day. The incident left her in a large cast for several months, a trial that surely had at least part of her wondering ‘why me?’ You can infer from the words she penned the day of her release from this cast what she was doing. Taking a walk through a sunny park on a spring day radiates from the words she composed, a blessing that she just couldn’t ignore upon her return to her home from this stroll. She could walk again! Did she hug the doctor? If she did, she thanked Jesus still more, for perhaps the experience had focused her conscience upon Him more than ever. The song-writing she’d begun after her bed-ridden experience had evidently made a lasting impression upon her, so that when her spinal condition turned out to be chronic, she turned to an alternative life’s work. Sunday schools and song-writing were her passion from that point forward, producing an abundance of hymns – over 1,700!—until her death in 1920.

What pushes someone like Eliza Hewitt to such prolific heights? Had she read about Joseph, the great son of a Genesis patriarch, who might have bemoaned his imprisonment in Egypt?  He avoided revenge’s temptation. No jail kept him from using what was inside of himself, not even death’s threat. He was the hint of Him, so to speak, who would later arrive on the scene of history and overcome life’s reverses. Eliza must have remembered Him too, don’t you think?       

See more information on the song discussed above in 101 More Hymn Stories by Kenneth W. Osbeck, Kregel Publications, 1985; and Then Sings My Soul – 150 of the World’s Greatest Hymn Stories, Robert J. Morgan, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2003.

See here for list of composer’s works:

Saturday, December 6, 2014

The Lily of the Valley -- Charles William Fry

This 40-ish English-Scottish musician and bricklayer was probably helping with an evangelism campaign and perhaps receiving input from family members when he wrote out some words that today are known to us as “The Lily of the Valley” (see one pictured here). It was also the year before this fellow Charles William Fry died, in the latter part of the 19th Century. So were the words he penned significant to him, as if he knew what was approaching? Or were they merely coincidental, reflecting what was important, but yet what was routinely true of Fry’s life at the time? And why did he choose the metaphor about this particular flower?

Charles Fry was the composer, but his credit for “The Lily…” was probably a footnote in his life among all the other details of the song’s development. Fry is known to have composed just a handful of musical works, perhaps because his vocational and musical endeavors kept him otherwise occupied. Though his trade was as a bricklayer, Fry was a notable musical influence in his community in southern England. He directed a band and an orchestra at a chapel, earning him the unofficial title as the “first bandmaster of the Salvation Army”. As this label suggests, he and his family’s participation in the Salvation Army’s campaigns were as common as was that of the organization’s founder, William Booth. We know that “The Lily of the Valley” was spawned as part of Fry’s involvement with the Salvation Army’s efforts in London, telling us his focus was on sending a message to those who Booth was trying to reach. The ‘lily’ of which Fry wrote indicates he was engaged in studying the Song of Solomon (chapter 2, verse 1), the only biblical reference point for the song title’s phrase. Or, perhaps it was Booth, as he prepared a message, or one or more of Fry’s family members in the band who was inspired by the bible passage and floated the idea for the song. It was a tune this family of musicians would be playing together, after all. It may have been Fry’s last composition, of the few he reportedly created, because he died the following year, in 1882. Could he have known of his impending demise? We know nothing of this possibility, but the last two lines of his third verse are nevertheless a fitting epitaph for this musical director-believer.  Fry writes of being carried away ‘to glory’ and dwelling among ‘rivers of delight’. If he indeed felt his own end was imminent, he doesn’t sound doomed, does he?    

If I were writing something that would be near the end of my terrestrial life, what would that be? I’d want to be gleaning something from His word, as Fry apparently was doing in 1881. Something hopeful, drawing me toward the One whom I’ll be meeting. Maybe trying to take some others with me, as Fry was thinking about when he composed this for the Salvation Army’s use. That’s two pretty good thoughts to keep primary, isn’t it? Getting myself ready to go, and urging others to come along.      

A brief biography of the composer is here:

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Precious Memories – John Braselton Fillmore Wright

He probably remembered Route 937, and the larger dot on the map known as Groesbeck that was just a little ways northwest of his childhood home.  It was another speck on the Texas map (see the state’s seal here), known as Hamlin, where John Braselton Fillmore Wright was letting his mind drift one night in 1923, as he thought about “Precious Memories”.  His mind’s eye conjured up images of a railroad too, and friendly folks aboard passing trains who waved anonymously at a curious youngster who’d become a fixture along their rail line journey. Both scenes had shaped the life of this middle-aged Texan up until that point in his life.

 J.B. F. Wright had plenty to draw upon as he wept and penned the special words of his “Precious Memories” during the dead of one autumn night in his 46th year. His mind flowed back to his childhood in east-central Texas, of his mother and father and their home in Box Church, a tiny town down Route 937 from Groesbeck, which lies some 35 miles east of Waco. Perhaps John also recalled being at nearby Lake Limestone more times than he could count. But, besides the sights he might have recalled, it was the sounds that Wright pondered, particularly those of his parents.  They loved to sing, spurring a love of music in their son, and providing the foundation upon which he stood to produce, according to various accounts, between 200 and 500 songs over his lifetime.  So it was natural for John to feel deeply the loss of these mentor-parents in the early part of the 1900s, two events five years apart that stayed with him for the remainder of his life, including in 1923. Those weren’t the only episodes that filled his head one night, however. His young son Everett had suddenly died more than a year earlier, an event that still tormented him. The trains near Hamlin, Texas with the waving passengers that had intrigued the little boy also stuck with the father. ‘Where was the cute kid who so liked to wave?’, they must have wondered wistfully. And so, in Hamlin (north of Abilene, in north-central Texas), for whatever reason, Wright’s mind would not rest one night as he lay on his bed. The tears flowed, but he’d apparently learned that poetry and songs flowed therapeutically out of trials like this too.

John Wright may not have had much formal music training, but that didn’t stop him from composing. He’d attended one singing school near Hamlin for a few weeks, but spent his life vocationally as a farmer and later as a custodian and groundskeeper at a college. Perhaps that was all he needed to nurture the musical gene within – a seemingly unspectacular life that was nevertheless filled with cherished thoughts of home and family. His words tell of his formula for song-writing. Keep it simple, and don’t avoid memories, even painful ones. They just might be from God.

A brief biography of the composer is here:

Most complete story of the song story here, by Robert J. Taylor, in an excerpt of his book “A Song Is Born”:

For a stirring music video rendition of Wright’s song, see here:

See here for map of area around composer’s hometown area: